Government To Open Lampposts, Bus Shelters For 5G Expansion

The government continues to try encourage the expansion of 5G coverage in the United Kingdom, with a plan to utilise street furniture.

The government announced a two year £4 million project to make it easier for mobile operators to ramp up the use of street furniture and public buildings to host 5G radio kit.

It should be noted that this is exactly what BT asked for three years ago, when the UK carrier called on local councils to open up access to their street furniture (lamp posts, CCTV columns etc), in an effort to improve 4G and 5G coverage.

Street lamps, bus shelters

The government said mobile network operators will get easier access to lampposts, bus shelters and other street furniture.

Its £4 million competition “will explore ways to make it simpler and quicker for mobile companies to use publicly-owned buildings and curbside infrastructure to host 5G radio equipment.”

The government said street furniture and buildings can be used to host 5G network equipment more cheaply, quickly and with less visual impact compared with traditional phone masts.

But currently mobile operators often find it difficult to acquire the information needed to verify that a structure is suitable, such as its location, physical dimensions, proximity to the street or access to a power source.

In response, the government said it will invest in piloting the latest innovations in digital asset management platforms.

The idea is to enable local councils to more easily share this type of data with mobile operators.

“The lampposts lining our streets have huge potential to accelerate the roll out of 5G and reduce the need to build new masts, but right now getting access to this infrastructure can be tricky,” explained digital infrastructure minister Matt Warman.

“That’s why we are investing millions to help local councils and mobile companies work together more effectively to bring people the incredible benefits of faster connectivity as we level up the UK,” said Warman.

The government move was welcomed by the industry.

“Mobile networks are critical to the UK’s economic recovery yet deploying infrastructure on public assets has often proved difficult,” said Hamish MacLeod, Mobile UK.

“We welcome this competition aimed at breaking down these barriers and accelerating investment in 5G by piloting new digital platforms that bring together public bodies and mobile operators to make public-owned infrastructure more easily accessible.”

The government’s Digital Connectivity Infrastructure Accelerator (DCIA) project is the latest in a number of measures to remove barriers for greater connectivity.

Other plans include a trial running fibre broadband cables through drinking water pipes announced last month.

The government is also considering giving broadband firms access to more than a million kilometres of underground utility ducts to boost the rollout of full fibre broadband – including electricity, gas and sewer networks.

It will begin a consultation on this shortly.

Mast installations

It is fair to say any action to ease the installation of mobile phone masts will be welcomed by the industry, as installations have often faced significant local opposition, and matters have got worse during the Coronavirus pandemic with false conspiracy theories.

Last month a conspiracy theorist in the north east was found guilty of setting fire to a BT phone mast on the roof of a garage. He caused between £100,000 and £150,000 damage to the mast, which was destroyed, as well as causing around £15,000 damage to the garage itself.

During the height of the pandemic last year, mobile masts were repeatedly set on fire in parts of the country.

In April the government proposed that mobile operators should be allowed to make new and existing masts up to five metres taller and two metres wider than current rules permit, in order to fit more equipment on them so they can be more easily shared with other operators.

But countering local opposition still remains a significant issue.

This was evidenced just before Christmas, when Bath and North Somerset Council’s planning committee voted six to three to refuse permission for an existing 4G mast to be upgraded to 5G.

EE and Three had wished to upgrade their 15m mast at a sports ground on the fringes of Bath, to include 5G equipment – thereby raising the height by an extra 5 metres.

The council received more than 300 objections to the EE/Three mast from local residents to the plan, many of them citing the false threat to health theory.

Indeed, a group called Stop 5G in Bath rallied opposition to the mast.

Matters were not helped when Bath’s Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse was among those who called on the council to listen to concerns about health.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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